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The Party Leaders Dodge TG4’s Irish Language Debate In #GE16

Well this announcement is indicative of the current status of the Irish language in Ireland. The planned, televised leaders’ debate on TG4 seems to have been all but abandoned after Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams TD, a near-fluent adult learner of Irish, and the Labour Party’s Joan Burton TD, an anglophone non-speaker, suggested fluent substitutes for the live broadcast in the form of Pearse Doherty TD, the SF party finance spokesperson and a native-speaker, and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin TD, Labour’s minister of state for new communities, culture and equality. Fianna Fáil refused to participate in the altered format, arguing instead for a two-way debate between it’s leader, Micheál Martin TD, and Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny TD, both fluent Irish-speakers. Unfortunately FG refused to permit a one-on-one debate between Martin and the Taoiseach, knowing that Kenny might well fluff his lines in any language, insisting on a four-person debate between the party leaders or their deputies. FF set it’s face against this again so, as of now, it seems the general election of 2016 will be marked by no discussions in the national language between the political leaders standing for Dáil Éireann.

From a report by the Irish Times:

“The new arrangement will involve searching one-on-one interviews with Mr Kenny and Mr Martin, followed by a segment involving Mr Ó Ríordáin and Mr Doherty.

Sources in TG4 said the outcome was disappointing but it was the only realistic option it had, once two parties suggested substitutes.

A spokesman for Fianna Fáil said that was either a leaders’ debate or not and it would not worked as substitutes were being proposed by Labour and Sinn Féin.

The spokesman said that Mr Martin was willing to participate in a two-way leaders debater but that seemingly was not acceptable to Fine Gael.

For its part, the Fine Gael spokeswoman said the two formats the party had suggested involved four leaders or seven leaders. She said when that was not possible no other proposals were put to the party.

In 2011, in what might transpire to be a unique moment in Irish politics, the leaders of the three major parties took part in a full debate in Irish on TG4. It involved Mr Kenny, Mr Martin and the then leader of the labour Party Eamon Gilmore.

The quality of the debate and the exchanges were widely praised at the time.”

Given the reputation for tough questioning gained by TG4’s news team in the leaders’ debate of 2011 it is perhaps unsurprising that more than one party leader was searching for a way out of it, while hopefully embarrassing some of his or her opponents for their lack of Irish proficiency. Whatever the case, the only real looser here is the indigenous language of our island nation and the citizens and communities who speak it.

The second-class Irish must retreat to the back of the studio again.

17 comments on “The Party Leaders Dodge TG4’s Irish Language Debate In #GE16

  1. I understood it was TG4 who deemed the spoken Irish of Adams and Burton to be inadequate. Was it Sinn Féin and Labour themselves who suggested that?

    For Martin to reject the re-proposed format with substitutes was a convenient and disingenuous cop-out; it’s a general party election, so it’d have been entirely reasonable that any competent representative with a broad knowledge of party policy would have filled in for their leaders. Doherty certainly would have been able. That demand (an avoidance excuse) might have been valid had it been, say, a single-candidate election, like for the presidency.


    • From what I understand it was SF and Labour who suggested the use of substitutes capable of technical fluency rather than the conversational fluency achieved by Adams. TG4 tried to make it work with the other parties but FF and FG were uncooperative. Martin has very good, “blokey” Irish, while Kenny’s is more schoolmaster-like. Both would find it easier to brush up on civil service speak Irish than Adams, the kind you would need in such a debate. Burton has no more than pidgin-Irish at best.

      I’m hoping that one solution might be a representative debate, fluent speakers of the four parties debating, putting the leadership debate to one side for now. Something is better than nothing and the #GE11 debate was quite good by those better qualified than me to comment.

      Even in Canada they can manage to have French debates in the federal elections. Indeed, they are deemed an absolute necessity. Bilingualism is simply seen as the norm in most politics, however much anglophones may grumble. But here…


      • Yes, in Canada it would be political suicide to admit that you were incapable of handling the French debate, or for Francophones to handle the English debate. Even the separatist party participates in the English debate. Political parties, on a national level, will also ensure that they have party platforms and advertisements available in both offical languages. Any politician with a dream of a federal career will invest great personal effort into improving his second language.

        But the real miracle is that since the wide participation in French Immersion schooling, starting in the 1970s, more and more professional people are already passably bilingual.

        The real change in Canada was inspired by a politician, Pierre Trudeau (father of our current pm Justin Trudeau) who had the vision, the strength of belief, the conviction, and the balls to take on the conservative English society that had inherited the British Confederation and set a more independant, non colonised vision. It was he that convinced millions of Anglophone parents that not only was bilingualism a form of justice for the 2 founding peoples but a good thing for their children. (Note: the same justice has not been accorded to aboriginal peoples whose languages are generally in dire straits other than Cree and Inuktitut).

        From the sounds of it, Ireland currently lacks visionary politicians… as does most of the Western world.


        • French unlike Irish isn’t a regional minority language that’s spoken by few people. French is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world – It’s spoken by more than 220 millions of people and is not threatened at all. In fact the French colonial empire imposed it upon millions of people.

          That’s why it makes sense for English speaking Quebeckers to invest time and money in learning French to be able to not only speak with their own countrymen, but also with millions of French speakers all around the world.
          But what can I gain if I invest countless hours (and countless euros too) in learning Irish?


          • Your comments suggest you don’t get the fact that a language can be a minority within its social context anywhere in the world regardless of the number of speakers in a global sense. In Canada, French is a minority language. Outside of Québec the Francophone minorities lives exactly the same linguistic struggle as those Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht with steady loss of numbers of speakers. The plight of Hispanophones in the US is one of similar nature despite the fact of the global situation of Spanish.

            Also, your comments fail to explain why Anglophone parents all over Canada, not just in Québec, choose to send their children into a French immersion education system. My point still stands: the political will demonstrated by a strong political leadership with a vision for the language, the ability to change the perception of the language on a national level, and the ability to become a force for sustained social change is what Canada had under Pierre Trudeau and what Ireland lacks under its current crop of politicians.


          • In the age of modern communication technologies that’s no longer true – the flow of information is no longer limited by geography or country borders.
            All countries try to promote their own language and culture beyond their borders.
            That’s why, for example, the Kremlin invests billions in its propaganda machine in order to reach Russian speakers who live outside of Russia and uses the Russian language as a weapon to fight for its interests.
            Even my country pays for language lessons for Latvian kids who live abroad (Of course that support is nothing compared to what large countries are doing).
            French speakers in Quebec are not isolated from the outside world and can receive support from the rest of the French speaking world and that alone makes them equal with the English speakers in Canada who are part of the Anglosphere.
            It’s a competition between 2 large colonial languages not between a majority and a minority language like it’s in Ireland.
            France says loud and clear that:
            “Spreading the French language is a priority for French diplomacy”

            Irish on the other hand doesn’t have a large foreign country backing it – it has only a few native speakers and a bunch of hobbyists who have learned it.


      • There are people in Quebec who genuinely have limited or no English skills. That’s why politicians have to speak French in order to get their votes. There are no such people in Ireland – everyone who can vote understands English perfectly.


  2. Graham Ennis

    Quote: “There are people in Quebec who genuinely have limited or no English skills. That’s why politicians have to speak French in order to get their votes. There are no such people in Ireland – everyone who can vote understands English perfectly.” Add: But sometimes they overindulge on the Poteen, and start raving in Klingon. (I am setting this comment in an Irish context.) That is about the level of actual debate amongst most Anglophones, some of whom are so assimilated into the Anglosphere, that they have become full of unconscious Anglo-racism. It embarrasses the hell out of them that they can barely utter a word in their own three thousand year old language, with it’s massive culture, so they attack it. We have all heard the phrase: “Self hating Jew”, that is frequently uttered by Zionist ultra’s, but in Ireland we have the Self-hating Paddy. Really. My own father was one such, totally anti Irish history and culture, and rising to the higher levels of the Anglo-sphere. Franz Fanon would have understood him perfectly. I think it is time for the Indigenous speakers to start getting tough, and asserting their Human Rights. The Welsh language movement is a wonderful textbook. If something drastic is not done, then We will lose 3000 years of history and inheritance, and all will become, by default, “Self-Hating Paddies”, who have had a compulsory cultural brain bypass. An Ireland without a single, authentic Gael left. Mourne what is coming.


    • What do you mean by – “get tough”?

      They have no economic or political power. How are they going to force me to spend thousands of euros in order to get fluent in irish?


      • Why do you need to spend “thousands of Euros”? I admit that a handful of books might be useful, a few tens of Euros at the most, but there’s any amount of Irish available completely fee on the internet these days, we’re not in the 1950’s any more.
        For example, I happened to Google for Irish language blogs yesterday and came across this list (even I was surprised there was so many) :


        • Because time is money and while I’m learning a language I can’t learn or do anything else.


          • Good point as far as it goes. But it would apply to any small or medium-sized language where its speakers also spoke a language (i.e. English) that you already knew. So if you’d gone to e.g. Denmark or Holland you’d have no reason to take time to learn the local language since everyone with an education speaks good English, just as you do. But you mentioned a friend who’d gone to Iceland and was learning the language. I very much doubt that there would be any need for that as far as earning money was concerned. That is, there would be little technical information etc. available in Icelandic (or Dutch, or Estonian …) not also available in English.

            But really the question isn’t why you should learn Irish, no one afaik is asking you to. You speak English to the Irish, just as you’d do to Estonians, Poles, Danes …, just as most of northern Europe does with anyone from another country these days.

            No the real question is why the Irish don’t learn Irish, even when it’s shoved in front of them at school.


          • So if you’d gone to e.g. Denmark or Holland you’d have no reason to take time to learn the local language since everyone with an education speaks good English, just as you do.
            If I go there as a tourist then of course. But if I wanted to live there longer then it would be extremely rude and offensive to not learn the language that’s used and preferred by the locals.
            In Latvia we don’t like Soviet immigrants who haven’t learned Latvian. I and many others simply refuse to speak Russian with them and make it extremely clear that their behaviour is not acceptable. Another problem with people like that is that they can’t integrate into the Latvian society, don’t understand what ordinary people or mass media are saying and are living mainly in the Russian language information space that’s dominated by a hostile foreign country that doesn’t even recognise my country. So yeah – not only those people are annoying to interact with – they are potential security threats.

            If Irish was the dominant language of Ireland – I would make my best effort to learn it.
            No the real question is why the Irish don’t learn Irish, even when it’s shoved in front of them at school.
            It’s no longer their own language. Their parents didn’t teach it to them. Their relatives and friends don’t speak with them in it. And the cultural products that they’re consuming are not in it. English is used in all those situations and it works really well and there’s absolutely no reason to change it.
            And it’s widely accepted that you can be Irish if you only speak English. Even IRA bombers and the most real IRAishman Gerry Adams can’t speak Irish properly or at all. (It doesn’t work that way in Latvia – someone who doesn’t speak Latvian is not considered part of our nation).

            So yeah – in that case you might as well try to introduce Latin, Esperanto or Klingon, because those languages are equally foreign to most of Ireland’s population.


  3. Derek Ó H

    Janis: ‘But what can I gain if I invest countless hours (and countless euros too) in learning Irish?’
    I hope I can answer this Janis. A language is a door to a culture and Irish has been a door to indigenous Irish culture for me. The social life I have gained from being able to meet and speak with other Irish speakers has been great. I can now converse with probably more than 250,000 fluent speakers around the Island. I can use Irish with my children. Learning Irish has also given me an insight into Irish history, personal, and family names as well as place names – all of which enriches my experience of being Irish. I can now access music, songs, literature and historical sources that were not open to me previously. As I love music, I am delighted to be able to enjoy many great Irish language songs that I was previously ignorant of. I can enjoy Irish language media and I can apply for posts where Irish is a requirement. Overall, learning Irish has enhanced my life as an Irish person. This ‘turas teanga’ or language journey may not be for everyone, but I am delighted I have engaged with native Irish culture linguistically.


  4. Yes, Irish is the real loser here, its foothold is looser than ever.


  5. Derek Ó H

    This is absolutely hilarious. Nelson McCausland actually wrote an article complaining about the Gaelicisation of one word ‘craic’ and his problem with this, and the Belfast Telegraph actually published it!!! Seriously, this makes our politicians look like Einstein’s apprentices.


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